What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in New Mexico?

Learn how to calculate what you're owed in unpaid wages and penalties.

In New Mexico, state and federal laws determine how much you must be paid, when you must be paid, and more. If your employer has failed to pay you properly or on time, you can recover not only your unpaid wages, but also penalties intended to punish your employer for wage theft. Below, we explain how to calculate what you are owed.

Unpaid Wages

Employees must be paid at least the minimum hourly wage. You are entitled to be paid the highest minimum wage that applies where you work, whether federal, state, or local. In New Mexico, the state minimum wage is $7.50 an hour. You are entitled to this amount because it is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

To calculate your unpaid minimum wage, subtract what you were actually paid per hour from what you should have been paid per hour. For example, if you were paid only $5 an hour for your first two weeks of full-time work, you would be entitled to $2.50 an hour times 40 hours times two weeks, or $200.

In most states, including New Mexico, employers may pay a lower minimum wage to employees who earn tips, as long as the hourly wage plus tips adds up to at least the full minimum wage. Learn more in New Mexico Laws for Tipped Employees.

Unpaid Overtime

Failing to pay the overtime premium is one of the most common ways employers violate wage laws. Under federal and state law, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours in a week.

You are entitled to overtime unless your employer can prove that you fit into one of the narrow exemptions to the overtime rules. The most common exemptions are for outside salespeople and “white-collar” employees who do professional, managerial, and administrative work and who have the authority to make relatively high-level decisions; see our overtime page for more information.

If your employer has failed to pay you for overtime, you are entitled to an extra 50% of your hourly rate for each overtime hour. For example, if you are usually paid $12 an hour, you are entitled to be paid time and a half, or $18 an hour, for overtime work.

Example: Dinah works at an electronics store, earning $10 an hour. She usually works 40 hours a week. However, she agrees to stay late and work six extra hours one week to help take inventory. Dinah is entitled to $400 for her regular hours, plus $15 per hour for the six hours of overtime ($90), for a total of $490.

Unpaid Breaks and Time Off

Although some states require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, New Mexico does not. However, under federal law, you are entitled to be paid for the following:

  • any breaks of less than 20 minutes, if provided by your employer, and
  • any time during which you must work, even if your employer calls it a break (for example, if you're required to eat lunch at your desk in order to cover the phones).

To calculate your unpaid break wages, add up how much time you spent on shorter breaks that should have been paid or breaks that you had to work through or weren’t allowed to take. Multiply this extra time by your hourly rate. And don’t forget overtime: Breaks for which you should have been paid count as hours worked, which means they may push your total hours for the week above 40 per week.

Penalties for Unpaid Wages

Federal law give employees the right to collect penalties in addition to the wages they should have been paid, if they win an administrative case or lawsuit. Some of these penalties are described below; additional penalties may be available.

If your employer violates the federal minimum wage or overtime laws, you have the right to request liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are the same amount as your total unpaid wages. In other words, if your employer fails to pay you $4,500 in overtime, you can request another $4,500 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $9,000.

Similarly, if your employer fails to pay you the minimum wage, New Mexico law allows the court to award you damages of twice the unpaid amount.

Filing a Lawsuit

If your employer failed to pay you all of the wages you earned, you can file a lawsuit or a wage claim with the Wage and Hour Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. (Check the Department’s website for information on how to file a claim for unpaid wages.)

If you plan to go forward with a lawsuit or a wage claim, talk to an experienced New Mexico employment lawyer. A lawyer can represent you in either process. If you win, your attorney can ask the judge to require your employer to pay his or her fee.

If you plan to assert your rights, you should act quickly. You must generally file a lawsuit for unpaid wages within three years, under New Mexico law. For violations of federal law, you must file within two years (or within three years, if the violation was willful). However, you shouldn’t wait this long. Memories fade, documents can be lost, and people move on to new jobs. It’s best to file a wage claim shortly after your employer failed to pay you, so you can get the money you are owed and get on with your life.

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